Thursday 22 February 2018

Syria uses jet fighters for first time in new bid to crush rebels

Damage from heavy shelling of the al-Qadam district of Damascus, Syria.
Damage from heavy shelling of the al-Qadam district of Damascus, Syria.

Damien McElroy in Aleppo province

Syria's regime carried out air strikes using jet fighters for the first time yesterday, escalating its struggle against rebels in the city of Aleppo.

Insurgents from the Free Syrian Army (FSA) claimed to have come under direct assault from two Russian-made MiGs in the southern part of the conurbation of at least two million people.

"They were attacking us," one rebel fighter said.

Aleppo is Syria's commercial capital and the FSA is now focusing its efforts on its capture. If they succeed, this would be a crucial setback for President Bashar al-Assad's regime.

While the security forces have routinely used helicopter gunships, they had not dispatched fixed wing aircraft for ground attack missions. The intervention by the MiGs apparently came in response to rebels seizing part of Aleppo's old city, a United Nations World Heritage Site.

Further air strikes could reawaken the debate over Western intervention to reduce the bloodshed by imposing a "no-fly" zone. The decision by Mummar Gaddafi to deploy jets against the Libyan uprising was a decisive factor in the West's decision to topple him, which began when the world's leading powers effectively grounded his air force.

The Syrian authorities have been fighting back since suffering severe losses in the confusion following the assassination of four senior commanders in Damascus last week.

Their attempts to clear rebellious suburbs of the capital continued yesterday.

Leaflets

Activists said they were dropping leaflets from helicopters calling on the opposition to surrender.

"The weapon you are carrying has become a burden on you, and there is no hope for you to survive unless you drop your weapon," read the leaflets.

"The moment of truth has come."

But in Aleppo, Syria's industrial hub, the regime faces an opposition which, although out-gunned, has a strategy.

The FSA is flooding streets with fighters, attacking the army's positions, but swiftly withdrawing when the response becomes too fierce. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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